Who paid the largest criminal fine in history?

COMPANIES which have cost lives, environmental disasters or severe wrongdoing have been ordered to pay back billions in damages for their mishaps.

Here’s the most expensive criminal fines.

Bank of American paid a huge $16.65billion (£11billion) in damages in 2014[/caption]

TEPCO – $450bn (£330bn)

After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, critics blamed the lack of preparedness for the event, as well as a muddled response from both the plant operator Tokyo Electric Power and the government.

An independent investigation set up by Japan’s parliament concluded that Fukushima was “a profoundly man-made disaster”, blaming the energy company for failing to meet safety requirements or to plan for such an event.

In 2019 a Japanese court cleared three former Tepco executives of negligence in what was the only criminal case to come out of the disaster.

But the company faced compensation claims totalling 5trillion yen (roughly £330billion) from the tens of thousands of people who have been driven from their homes by radiation leaks.

BP – $64bn (£47bn)

If you cast your mind back to 2010, there was a gigantic oil spill in the gulf of Mexico in what is known as the largest marine oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

Just off the Texas coast, it’s suspected to have covered a whopping 60,000 square miles and poured into the sea for four months.

A massive response followed to protect beaches, wetlands and estuaries from the spreading oil using skimmer ships, floating booms, controlled burns and 7,000 square miles of oil dispersant.

Along with adverse effects from the response and cleanup activities, extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats and fishing and tourism industries was extreme and known as the largest industrial environmental disaster in US history.

Petrol company BP settled with the US Department of Justice for £15billion in 2016, the total compensation ultimately paid out by the company reportedly exceeded £47billion.

Bank of America – $16.65bn (£11bn)

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, new regulatory bodies were created and banks were under increased scrutiny from dodgy dealings.

A large part of the crisis was caused by banks lending to people who would be very unlikely to pay it back, a subprime loan.

At the time, President Barack Obama said the mortgage finance practices that led to the economic meltdown were “immoral, inappropriate and reckless,” but not necessarily illegal, making it difficult to punish key players, specifically in the subprime debacle.

However, Bank of American paid a huge $16.65billion (£11billion) in damages in 2014 for its role, $13billion (£8billion) was paid by JP Morgan to resolve similar charges, and the $8.9billion (£6.5billion) paid by BNP Paribas for violations of US sanctions against Sudan, Iran, and Cuba.

Major fines have also been levied on Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Wells Fargo, and HSBC holdings for conduct ranging from money laundering to rate manipulation, retail practices, and tax evasion. 

Volkswagen – $14.7bn (£10bn)

In 2016, Volkswagen faced $14.7bn (£10billion) in civil and criminal penalties from the United States in the wake of its scandal over emissions cheating.

In a world increasingly concerned with the response to climate change, the VW case shook the entire automotive industry to the core. The VW scandal effectively doomed diesel as a fuel for the future.

Today, all major automotive companies are directing their investments (and future) towards electric cars, while striving to meet increasingly aggressive emissions targets.  

Google – $9.5bn (£7bn)

Regulators in the US and Europe alike appear to be taking aim at Silicon Valley and with growing concerns about cyber-security, data protection, and online privacy, the technology sector has emerged as the next target of multi-billion-dollar fines.

Over the past three years, the EU has levied a series of fines against Google for alleged anti-competitive practices, totalling around $9.5bn (£7bn).

In 2019, it has been widely reported that another tech giant, Facebook, was expected to face fines of up to $5bn (£3.5bn) by the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations. 

Pharmaceuticals – up to $3bn (£2bn)

Big pharma companies have had their fair share of expensive fines, mainly for advertising the use of drugs for purposes not approved by government, called ‘off-label marketing’.

In 2012, GlaxoKlineSmith paid £782million in criminal damages for failure to disclose safety data and off-label marketing and £1.45billion in civil charges.

The case covered a variety of miss-marketed drugs including antidiabetic, Avandia.


In 2009 the company paid a 2.3billion dollar fine for false claims in one of the biggest fraud settlements in US history.

Pfizer Inc pleaded guilty to a U.S. criminal charge relating to promotion of its now-withdrawn Bextra pain medicine.

The world’s biggest drugmaker was slapped with huge fines by the U.S. government after being deemed a repeat offender in pitching drugs to patients and doctors for unapproved uses.

Pfizer’s marketing team promoted Bextra for acute pain, surgical pain and other unapproved uses, while its salesforce promoted the drug directly to doctors for those unapproved uses and dosages, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In 2013 Johnson & Johnson paid 1.4bn for the same offence.


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